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Home / Tustin

All Tustin schools remain closed Tuesday due to hangar fire fallout

All campuses in the Tustin Unified School District will remain closed Tuesday and students will participate in virtual learning, after school officials learned that preparations are underway for the teardown of a massive World War II blimp hangar damaged by a fire earlier this month.

“It is with a heavy heart that I share tonight’s update,” district Superintendent Mark Johnson said Monday night in an online post. “Throughout the weekend, we shared a detailed plan with families regarding reopening schools for on-campus instruction following clearance by the certified asbestos consulting firm. Since this communication was provided and additional details have been shared, we have received new information from the Incident Management Team. The IMT is under the direction of the Orange County Fire Authority and works in coordination with the City of Tustin.

“Due to the concerns of the recent fire activity at the Tustin Hangar and as shared in the incident report posted today, the IMT is currently preparing for the controlled and systematic teardown of the hangar at a date to be determined,” Johnson continued. “Based on this information and out of an abundance of caution regarding the safety of our students and staff, we have made the difficult decision to pause our reopening plan.

“As such, it is disappointing to share that all schools will participate in virtual learning tomorrow, November 14. Virtual instructional plans will be communicated by school principals later this evening.

“Please know that based upon this evolving situation, it is possible that all TUSD schools will finish this week in virtual instruction. We will communicate updates as soon as we know more information.

Meanwhile, the Orange County Board of Supervisors held a special meeting Monday and unanimously ratified an emergency proclamation, making it easier to deal with the health and environmental fallout from the fire.

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Don Wagner explained why firefighters did not attack the blaze from the air, saying it would have caused more harm than good.

“It was an unfortunate reality of this tragedy,” Wagner said.

On Friday, the Tustin City Council unanimously approved an agreement with the U.S. Department of the Navy to immediately begin remediation procedures. The Navy owns the hangar property where the fire occurred.

Final details were still being worked out, but the agreement calls for the U.S. Navy to provide immediate administrative assistance and an initial $1 million to correct health and safety impacts the fire has had on the Tustin community.

The agreement also includes asbestos assessment and remediation for Tustin residents and businesses, plus demolition of the hangar to stabilize the site.

During Friday’s emergency session, Tustin officials also announced plans to expand cleanup services available from the certified asbestos consulting firm Envirocheck, which began fire debris assessment and cleanup activities in the Tustin community on Thursday.

The company has a phone number for Tustin residents and businesses with fire-related debris, which people should not touch on their own. The number is 714-937-0750.

Over the weekend, Tustin school officials announced plans to have each of its 27 campuses assessed to make sure it is safe for students to return after the hangar fire caused unhealthy air quality and released debris containing asbestos.

“We have secured … Envirocheck, to conduct testing at all TUSD campuses,” according to the district. “Envirocheck is well-respected in the field of environmental inspection and analysis and we are grateful for their partnership. Their expertise in testing and remediation of environmental concerns will guide our next steps for reopening our campuses. Our top priority remains getting our students and staff safely back on campus.”

Campuses have been categorized, based on their distance from the burn site and the presence of fire debris. Those farthest away are labeled green, those somewhat closer are yellow and those in the immediate proximity have been categorized as red.

The Tustin District serves the cities of Tustin and Irvine, plus nearby unincorporated areas.

Campuses were closed Thursday, Friday and Monday.

On Saturday, four days after the initial fire, it flared up again at about 5:30 p.m.

Firefighters from the Orange County Fire Authority planned to let the flare-up burn itself out, as they did when the fire first erupted about 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Capt. Greg Barta told City News Service. Due to the size of the 17-story structure and difficulty of safely reaching the flames, OCFA crews opted to pull back and allow the massive wooden hangar at Valencia Avenue and Armstrong Road to burn, essentially consuming the structure.

Last Wednesday, the South Coast Air Quality Management District issued a warning about unhealthy air quality in the area after tests of debris and ash from the fire showed the presence of asbestos, prompting the issuance of an emergency proclamation and the call for residents to take precautions.

Orange County health officials urged people in the area to limit their exposure to the smoke and ash.

The two giant hangars were built in 1942 and once housed blimps used during World War II.

Listed on the national Register of Historic Places, the hangars stand 17 stories high, are over 1,000 feet long and 300 feet wide — and are two of the largest wooden structures built at the air base, according to the Tustin Hangars website.

They have been featured in television and films, including “JAG,” “The X-Files,” “Austin Powers,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Star Trek.”

Tustin officials have set up a website, tustinca.org/1457/North-Hangar- Fire-Resource-Page, and a hotline, 714-628-7085, where the public can get updates.

Anyone with information that might help investigators determine the cause of the fire was asked to call 714-573-3225. Orange County Crime Stoppers will accept anonymous tips at 855-TIP-OCCS (855-847-6227).

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